Wellness Backlash and The Sins of Marketing

Wellness is a  $4.2 trillion dollar global industry and continues its meteoric growth. Unfortunately, where there’s opportunity, there are opportunists quickly turning a good thing into a hot mess. So it’s no surprise the industry, like others (think tech and organic), has fallen victim to a wellness backlash.

Questionable and ridiculous wellness trends along with lofty price tags are enough to send sane people running for the exit. Not to mention how the industry has painted itself into a very white and privileged corner.

According to Gartner, a “relatively small group made up of a privileged few has been propping up the explosive growth of the wellness industry, creating an illusion and hype bubble purporting mass wellness adoption that simply doesn't track with the everyday reality of most consumers.”

For brands genuinely on a mission to help people create habits benefitting the mind and body, it’s critical we find a way to connect with consumers on a more human level.

The Madness of Marketers

As a marketing professional, I will say we are largely to blame for this madness. Not only are we responsible for the products and prices, we’re responsible for the stories we’re putting into the world.

When I need a reminder of how marketing can be a force for good, I open the book Winning the Story Wars by Jonah Sachs. In it, he discusses the five deadly sins of modern marketing. All of which are at play in marketing wellness today.

The sin of Vanity is an obvious one to be addressed, but that’s true for many industries. For wellness specifically, the sins of Insincerity and Puffery are two we urgently need to rectify.

The Sin of Insincerity

“The insincere marketer can’t stop losing herself in hopes of pleasing her audience”.  - Jonah Sachs

Marketing from a place of insincerity means trying to be what you think your audience wants you to be (regardless of who you truly are).

For many wellness brands, it seems as though we’re all working from the same playbook based on an ideal persona derived from the same data and sliced this way and that way to optimize ad targeting.

What results is a babel of similar voices, targeting the same segments of people, preaching about how our product addresses a particular pain point better (such as “struggling to find time for myself”) or having more/less of a particular feature (like “a greener solution”) or being the most trusted or transparent brand.

But how much of that well-crafted messaging is sincere? When your brand fails to deliver on its promise, your credibility is lost and consumers move on.

The Sin of Puffery

“To place ourselves above our audiences, issuing commands from on high without a trace of our own humanity shining through is to commit the sin of Puffery” - Jonah Sachs

When an ad appears in my feed with some glowing 20-something whipping ropes that could hold back an aircraft carrier and asking if I fit in my workout that day...I don’t feel good about myself. Not only does it remind me that I’m not 20 anymore it also makes me think about what the backside of my arms would look like doing that exercise and that I don’t know how to tie a proper slip knot.

The sin of Puffery is one many wellness brands commit, knowingly or not. It’s easy to imagine some of our marketing messages engraved on (sustainably produced) stone tablets. Thou shalt find time for meditation. Thou shalt not eat processed foods. Thou shalt care about your carbon footprint.

Which leads me to ask the question: How can we make people feel adequate and still sell our products?

From Comparison to Comfort

A study by Gartner reveals an interesting shift in values. “As consumers increasingly prioritize the values of comfort and simplicity and deprioritize the value of excellence, they send a clear message: We’re sapped.”

Specifically, this study showed an increase of 7 points on the value of comfort: the need to be comfortable and content with life. And a decrease of 9 points on the value of excellence: I pursue and expect excellence in performance and quality from myself, others and the things in my life.

Contrast this with many of today’s wellness marketing messages. Are they helping people feel good about themselves? Are they helping people feel content with their lives? Or are they reminding people about where they are failing and adding to the list of “shalts”.

If your brand can genuinely say “yes” – congratulations! But if you look at the stories your brand puts into the world and feel you’re helping justify the wellness backlash, there’s still hope.

Talk to Your Customers

Combatting the sins of Insincerity and Puffery starts with a true insight about your customer and an understanding of how your brand uniquely solves their problem in a different, not just better, way.

Start by taking the time to actually talk (not just survey) your customers. Understand the forces pulling or pushing them to search for a solution, and the habits and anxieties keeping them from making a change in their lives. Check out our blog post on using Jobs Theory to uncover customer insights.

Armed with that knowledge, you can carve out a unique brand position and sincerely help your customers make the progress they’re wanting to make. Progress as defined by them, not an external definition of what it means to be “well”.

An empathetic approach to marketing will enable brands to connect with consumers on a more human-level and weather the wellness backlash.

Get more Food & Wellness Trends here, or sign up for monthly updates directly to your inbox.

For media inquiries please email fwt@room214.com

Related Resources

What Is an Insight?

Jobs To Be Done for Marketing

American Anxiety: The Role of Marketers

Jen Casson



Read More